You’ve been feeling low, you have no energy and you’re starting to get worried. You go to the doctor who, after checking a few vital parameters, tells you there’s nothing major wrong and prescribes some medication that will help you get back to normal. We would never dream of taking chances with our health so we get regular check ups and, if the worst comes to the worst, we hope that anything major is caught early enough to be able to do something about it.
This is just common sense isn’t it? Yet organizations can expend huge resources on their intranets and communication systems but generally have no idea of how healthy they are at any one time. This contributes to the all too common phenomenon of intranet boom and bust. Someday it just dawns on everyone that their intranet is not fit for purpose but shouldn’t they have seen it coming? Unfortunately it can be hard unless you have a system in place which effectively provides a regular health checkup for your intranet.
This post provides a methodology which will enable you to do just that – the Intranet Heath Check.
The Intranet Health Check
The ‘Intranet Health Check’ is based on an approach I’ve used in management systems for over thirty years – the quality audit. ‘Audits’ – aren’t they just something accountants do? Absolutely not. The word comes fromthe Latin ‘audire’ meaning ‘to listen’ or ‘hear’ and this gives a clue as to one of the underpinning characteristics of an audit – it is always evidence based. So some characteristics of audits which are relevant when considering intranets are -
- Audits gather hard evidence
- Audits are regularly carried out at pre-determined times using an audit plan
- Audits cover all activities within their scope (but usually spread out over time e.g.a year)
- Auditors are independent of the area being audited
- Information gathered is analysed and made available to all stakeholders
All this is well and good but the real trick is in identifying what you audit. As all organizations and intranets are different it is hard to be too dogmatic but I would suggest that, at a minimum, the following be regularly audited -
- Planned activities
- User satisfaction
- Stakeholder satisfaction
- Progress against goals and objectives
Quite simply any intranet activity that you’ve documented. This might be a process flow, a procedure,a timetable or indeed the audit system itself (usually carried out by the senior manager). If an activity is worth documenting then it’s worth checking to see if it’s been carried out correctly. If, for instance, it was ageed that user surveys are to be carried out twice a year then a check that it has been done in a thorough and timely way is invaluable. All too often processes are put in place and an assumption is made that, because the process is there, then everything is okay. In my experience all processes tend to diverge from what is documented and, unless you check, over time they can diverge to a point where the process ceases to be effective. Also things change. In a changing world a once effective process, even if carried out as documented, can cease to be effective. Audits can help to identify both these cases.
Obsolete, irrelevant and poorly presented content can convince your users that everything in your intranet is not to be trusted. I call this type of content ‘toxic’ as it poisons you users’ perceptions of your intranet like nothing else can. However, as it isn’t possible to check absolutely everything, an approach like Content Value Analysis (CVA) based on samples will prove invaluable. Using CVA you can check a small content sample and from that make statistically robust assumptions about the whole of your content. If you define your content areas correctly it should become possible to check each area regularly and build up a picture over time of how your content is doing. If HR content always scores better than Corporate then it becomes possible to investigate further and identify what HR are doing right and Corporate wrong.
Some organizations like to go for big annual surveys to see what their users think of their intranet. A year is a very long time and lot can happen. Carrying out smaller but more regular user satisfaction activities can help you see problems coming. For a really robust approach a mix of approaches should be used -
- Online surveys
- One to one contextual interviews
- Using a focus group
- Monitoring feedback
- Analysing web stats
- The ‘elevator interview’
Maintaining an ongoing aggregation of data, finding out what’s bugging your users and constantly reviewing data should tell you whether you are nearer ‘boom’ or ‘bust’.
Again a mix of approaches should be used -
- Regular update sessions with all stakeholders attending
- Regular one-on-one meetings. Not everyone is happy to speak out in large meetings
- Ensuring good feedback channels so stakeholders can easily pass on information about user problems in their area of responsibility
- Regular satisfaction surveys. Keep them as simple and short as possible, you can always do a follow up interview to investigate further when poor satisfaction scores are reported
Most important when it comes to stakeholders is managing expectations. Never promise more than you can achieve.
Progress against goals and objectives
Every intranet should set themselves achievable goals and objectives. Data from all of the above should enable you to tell if everything is on track or if the train is about to crash into a ravine. Regularly achieving the goals and objectives you set for your intranet should help convince senior managers that the intranet is worth investing in. Success breeds success and over time it is possible to change users’ and stakeholders’ perceptions.
You will need to document all your findings and communicate them to users and stakeholders. Overall I’d favour some sort of dashboard approach to documenting the data in a way that can be easily absorbed.
So try a health check on your intranet, check its pulse, and see if it’s fit for purpose or needs some urgent treatment.